One of the most talked about documentaries of the season, especially having just screened positively at the Toronto Film Festival and getting a push this week from Oprah, Davis Guggenheim's 'Waiting for Superman' (read our review from Sundance) opens in select theaters this Friday. Specifically on four screens. It's set to expand in the coming weeks, but while you can make a pledge to see the work more locally and hope that it eventually comes to you, there is a chance that you'll have to wait til it hits DVD and Blu-ray. So if you're anxious for a similar doc for the time being, you should check out Madeleine Sackler's 'The Lottery.'
Screening this Saturday in Brooklyn and available for purchase at most outlets and to rent through iTunes, Amazon and Blockbuster (sorry, no Netflix at the moment), this film is not as broad a look at the U.S. education system as Guggenheim's expected Oscar nominee. Rather it focuses specifically on a debate over charter schools in Harlem, NYC. While also featuring 'Superman' subject Geoffrey Canada and interviews with Newark mayor (and 'Streetfight' star) Cory Booker, as well as following a few families as they hope to win enrollment for their toddlers in one of these alternative institutions, Sackler presents a sometimes heartbreaking look into the process of lottery placement.
The filmmaker, who makes her feature debut here, is also clearly biased on the side of the charter schools (those showcased in the doc are Harlem Success Academy 1 & 2), and ultimately 'The Lottery' functions as an ad for these and others in general. At one point an organization against the Harlem Success schools is seen protesting a potential location choice for the charter's expansion. Their part of the debate is immediately shot down as misinformed.
Still, as with most one-sidef documentaries, 'The Lottery' is transparent enough that viewers won't be fooled to think its stance is the sole or true opinion. It's merely an attempt at persuasion, and the constant swipes at the teachers unions -- not without slightly fair representation from a pro-union politician -- may be influential, yet they could also just as easily be accepted as expected rhetoric. However, regardless of your take on the issue, there is no way you won't love the children, one the daughter of a deaf mother, another the son of an immigrant musician, whose lives and educational hopes are depicted on screen.
'The Lottery' is not a brilliant documentary, but it certainly is a beautifully filmed one, having been shot by Wolgang Held, the go-to cinematographer for quality non-fiction ('Bruno,' 'Racing Dreams,' 'American Teen') as well as equally a terrific indie fiction feature DP ('Teeth,' 'Ripe'). The score is also worth noting, as it's by TV on the Radio's Tunde Adebimpe and Gerard Smith.
Sackler's background appears to be in editing (primarily for MTV's 'Human Giant') and she was an assistant on Scorsese's Rolling Stones concert film 'Shine a Light.' She does a good job editing her own film, too, and in both that capacity and as documentary director she shows some great promise -- particularly if she works on her issues with balance and objectivity.
Check out 'The Lottery' and consider it a bit of light and preliminary viewing before having the opportunity to see Guggenheim's higher-profile film.